Do middle name initials enhance evaluations of intellectual performance?

Middle name initials often appear in formal contexts, especially when people refer to intellectual achievements. On the basis of this common link, the display of middle initials increases positive evaluations of people’s intellectual capacities and achievements. We document this effect in seven studies: Middle initials in authors’ names increased the evaluation of their writing performance (Study 1), and middle initials increased perceptions of status (Studies 2 and 4). Moreover, the middle initials effect was specific to intellectual performance (Studies 3 and 6), and it was mediated by perceived status (Studies 5–7).

That is from a paper by Wijnand A.P. van Tilburg and Eric R. Igou, via Anecdotal.  For me it has always been just “Tyler Cowen,” I have never had a middle name or initial.

Can you give away money without helping anyone?

Here is my email from Jeremy Davis:

There was an idiotic movie in the 80’s (“Brewster’s Millions”) where Richard Pryor had to burn through $30 million in 30 days in order to inherit $300 million.  There were some conditions:  “. . . after 30 days, he may not own any assets that are not already his, and he must get value for the services of anyone he hires. He may donate only 5% to charity and lose 5% by gambling, and he may not waste the money by purchasing and destroying valuable items. Finally, he is not allowed to tell anyone. . . .” [Wikipedia].

Anyhow, I was thinking of a similar movie one could make.  Awful, but perhaps instructive to students of economics.

Similar premise, similar challenge.  But my twist is that the stipulation now is that he can do whatever he wants with the $30 million, on the condition that he NOT HELP ANYBODY with the money.

I don’t believe this is possible.  Consider:

If he were to simply keep in in the bank and not touch it, the supply of loanable funds would shift to the right, lowering the cost of borrowing money, thereby helping others to improve their lives in various ways.

If he were to spend the money, he would create gains from trade, a positive-sum game.  People would consider themselves better off for having sold him a good or service . . . or they wouldn’t have.  Plus multipliers.

If he gave the money away, the recipient would doubtless consider himself better off, at least initially.

If he burned the money, he would be, albeit in a small way, helping the nation’s economy as a whole, since that $30 million represents a claim on the nation’s goods and services that now will never be called in.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that I don’t believe there’s any way a rich person can avoid helping others with his money.


The Chinese tourist hot water revolution

Bearing backpacks loaded with thermoses, sipping their steaming-hot refreshments with satisfaction, Chinese tourists’ unquenchable thirst for hot water, though odd for many Westerners, is having a huge impact on destinations worldwide, causing a “hot water revolution” in the global tourism industry.

In snow-crested Scandinavia, where chugging ice water is a long-standing habit, several hot water dispensers are being installed in Helsinki Airport to cater to Chinese travelers’ thirst for the throat-scalding beverage.

“We have long traditions in providing services for Chinese, but we want to develop them even further in order to welcome new passengers and make the current ones even happier,” Katja Siberg, SVP Marketing and Communications at Finavia, told People’s Daily Online, who added that the idea of serving hot water was proposed by her Finnish colleagues after they visited airports in China.

Helsinki Airport is not the only transportation hub that attempts to capture the hearts of Chinese tourists by providing them with hot water, and some of its counterparts have pushed the “hot water revolution” even further. In March, an intelligent hot water installation was set up in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, where USB heating vacuum cups designed by KLM were distributed to Chinese tourists as Spring Festival gifts.

Here is the full story.

Friday assorted links

Especially prominent figures and concepts in Ethiopian Christianity

Yes there is Mary, Jesus. and the (Monophysite) Trinity, but beyond that literally every day I hear about the following from a very religious populace:

King Solomon

Queen of Sheba

The Ark of the Covenant: “The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant, or Tabot, in Axum. The object is currently kept under guard in a treasury near the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. Replicas of the Axum tabot are kept in every Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church, each with its own dedication to a particular saint; the most popular of these include Mary, George and Michael.”

St. George, slaying the dragon, he is prominent in church paintings.

Days of fasting, 55 a year, and thus Ethiopian restaurants are very good for vegetarians and vegans.

Addendum: from the comments, by Yves-Marie Slaughter:

55 is only the number of days of fasting during Lent, prior to Easter.

Total number of fasting days for a ‘normal’ Christian per year, would be closer to 155…

A monk may fast more than 200 days a year.

By the way, pork is prohibited altogether.

Has there been progress in philosophy?

You know this old debate: why are we still reading Plato?  Haven’t they figured out free will yet?  Will they ever?  Don’t the philosophers obsess too much over very old texts?

My opinion is that there is significant and ongoing progress in philosophy, we just don’t always name it as such.  Here is a list of just a few breakthroughs in our philosophic understanding of the world, noting that part of our philosophic maturation is not to care so much anymore as to whether it is called philosophy:

1. Behavioral economics and much of cognitive psychology.

2. A much improved understanding of entropy, information, and information theory.

3. A much better understanding of human neurodiversity and its import..

4. The accumulated wisdom concerning cultural differences and similarities, as taken from anthropological investigations.  You will note that like many recent advances in philosophy, this cannot be found in any one single place.

5. Progress on cosmology and “the theory of everything” and even if you are cynical about the current state of affairs it is far better than say 1850.

6. A deeper understanding of the power and also limits of mathematics.

7. Having digested and then also spit out much of Freudian analysis, but we did learn something along the way.

8. The more philosophical sides of neuroscience, some of which of course are discussed by professional philosophers too.

9. A better understanding of man’s relation to the (non-human) animals.

10. Many ways of thinking about the environment — not all of them correct — have flowered only in relatively recent times.

11. Economics, and what we have learned from economic imperialism, including its failures.

12. Singapore, and in fact most other places/polities in the world.

13. Most literary works are understood much better today than they were in earlier eras.

14. Musical languages are far better developed and better understood.

15. Development of an “internet way of thinking.”

16. Much greater incorporation of the insights of women into philosophy, and many other formerly underrepresented groups too.

So our philosophic understanding of the world is far, far deeper than it was in the time of the so-called classic philosophers, whoever you might take those to be.  If “philosophy” has advanced by collaborating with other disciplines and the sciences, so much the better, and most of the “great philosophers” themselves would have approved of this.  And of course that list of sixteen items could be much, much longer.

Gonder notes

Gonder is I believe Ethiopia’s third largest city.  It has splendid castles and fortifications from the 18th century, with Moorish and Portuguese styles mixed in; at that time it was the capital.  There are numerous monasteries and churches scattered throughout the area, many with impressive frescoes.

There is no week in my life in which I have seen as many donkeys as I have seen one day in and around Gonder.

I was surprised how good the area is for birdwatching, you don’t even have to try.

There is an Ethiopian Jewish village nearby.  The Jews have left for Israel, but you can go see the synagogue behind a fence.

Two of my drivers have told me the exact same sentence: “They grow everything here: teff, barley, and wheat.”

If the people in the river village ask “do you wish to take out the small boat to go see the hippo?”, the correct answer is “No.

*The Trade*

This book is about what I call the Trade, the growing international business of political kidnappings, according to the US Treasury the most lucrative source of income, outside of state sponsorship, for illegal groups. But it’s more than about money. It is about my attempt, yes, to find the answer to two questions which have haunted me for nine years: Who kidnapped me, and why?

That is from Jere Van Dyk, The Trade: My Journey into the Labyrinth of Political Kidnapping.

Solve for the equilibrium, as they say.  The puzzle, of course, is why there are not more kidnappings for revenue.

Gonder, Ethiopia

Gonder was at the height of its prosperity at the turn of the eighteenth century, when it may have had a population of seventy thousand.  Emperor Fasilidades, who founded the new capital around 1635, obviously hoped to create a strong center around which the remnants of the Christian north could rally.  He picked a beautiful site, a flat volcanic ridge at seven thousand feet surrounded by mountains on three sides, but with easy access to Lake Tana in the south.  Gonder’s climate is warm during the day, cool at night, its two streams afforded plentiful water supplies and its hinterland abundant wood and produce.

Enough of an urban economy arose to sustain architecture, music, poetry, literature, painting, calligraphy, and educational, religious, and social institutions.  The emperors appeared in considerable state, surrounded by courtiers, clergy, and soldiers…

Image result for gondar ethiopia

The aristocracy and the monarchy supported the artists and artisans who put up buildings, illuminated manuscripts, decorates the interior of churches and palaces, and worked stone, wood, or pottery.  The town’s castles and other monuments were built of hewn brown basalt blocks and contained features that derived from Axumite and Zagwe times as well as Portuguese models.  They were concentrated in the center of the town, and provided a sharp contrast with the traditional round, thatched, mud wattled homes of the people.

Image result for gondar ethiopia church

That is all from the excellent Harold G. Marcus, A History of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian food in Ethiopia

I will compare to Ethiopian food in the United States, so I won’t be starting from scratch here.

The good news is that the product is tastier in Ethiopia.  But the other good news is that the U.S. version of the cuisine is fairly similar, and it really does give you a pretty good idea of at least mainstream restaurant cuisine in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopians really do eat a lot of injera, made out of teff.  Firfir dishes, which use injera soaked in spices, are far more common in Ethiopian cuisine in Ethiopia than in the U.S. equivalent.  Overall, the quality, subtlety, and diversity of injera is higher in Ethiopia, as you might expect.

Bozena Shiro is another staple, present in both countries but again far more common in Ethiopia.

Doro Wat — chicken in the red sauce — is the dish that improves the most in Ethiopia.  The sauce is richer and more subtle, more in the direction of a Mexican mole than just a mere curry.

I had two meals in private homes, one in a well-to-do apartment in Addis, the other in a rural village.  Neither overturned the basic impressions I have been receiving from the restaurant food.

I ate kitfo [raw beef] once and did not get sick or even feel queasy.

The fresh honey is much better in Ethiopia than what you might get in a restaurant in America.  And they pop fresh popcorn rather frequently.

Especially outside of Addis Ababa, prices are very cheap.  I stayed in the nicest hotel at the number one tourist site, namely Lalibela, with its underground, rock-hewn churches.  A single course at breakfast cost about a dollar and was enough for a meal.  Presumably some other prices are cheaper yet.

This is a wonderful country for vegetarians and vegans.  I am told that for the Christian religiously observant, about one-third of all days specify an abstention from meat.  So virtually all restaurants have a wide selection of vegetarian food and it is no worse than the meat dishes, perhaps better on average.

As for foreign cuisines, I had the best outcome with Indian food, perhaps because many of the spices and cooking techniques are similar.  There are Sudanese and Yemeni restaurants in Addis, Italian food is plentiful (it’s not always exactly Italian, but Castelli’s is amazing), and the Chinese meal I had was decent but not sufficiently Chinese.

Wednesday assorted links

My Conversation with Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Interesting throughout, so interesting I don’t feel the need to give you an excerpt, here is the audio and transcript.  There is no other conversation with Taleb which places his ideas in the proper context, as far as I am aware.  At the end of the conversation, just keep on scrolling, Taleb starts up with Bryan Caplan for an hour, mostly on education.  Here is the link for the Caplan segment only.

Does housing wealth make people more complacent?

It seems so:

I propose the status quo bias hypothesis, which predicts that housing wealth increases preference for status quo arrangements with respect to Social Security. I contrast the status quo bias hypothesis with the claim that housing wealth reduces support for social insurance, and test the hypothesis in two empirical studies. A survey experiment finds that homeowners informed about high historical home price appreciation (HPA) are about 8 percentage points more likely to prefer existing Social Security arrangements to privatized retirement accounts, compared to those informed about low historical HPA. Observational data from the 2000-2004 ANES panel show that homeowners who experience higher HPA are about 11 percentage points more likely to prefer status quo levels of spending on Social Security than those in the bottom HPA quartile. No significant HPA effects are observed among renters, and for other domains of social insurance among homeowners. The evidence suggests that housing wealth’s conservatizing effect should be interpreted as a status quo preference, rather than opposition to redistributive social policies.

That is from Weihuang Wong, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.